#WCW: Jill Sigman’s Performative Installations

The work of choreographer Jill Sigman exists at the intersection of dance, theater, and visual installation. Described as an artist of “prodigious imagination and intelligence” by The New York Times, Sigman transforms simple actions like walking on eggshells, sliding down the stairs, and eating hot pink roses into complex statements about self, society, and human experience.

Wesleyan University Press will publish Sigman’s Ten Huts in Spring 2017. The Hut Project, a series of installations made from debris and found objects, will be documented in the book.

Photographed here is a miniature hut created by Signman on Monday, September 28th, using found objects at Wesleyan University Press.


De Lavallade, Faison & Wilkinson reflect on Janet Collins & their careers


Panelists include Carmen de Lavallade, George Faison, and Raven Wilkinson.

Sunday, September 20th 2PM
Barnes & Noble, 150 East 86th Street (86th & Lexington Ave.), New York, NY

Moderated by author Yaël Tamar Lewin, to celebrate the paperback edition of Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins.
A panel of renowned artists will reflect on Collins and her career, and discuss their own experiences as African-American performers in a racially segregated United States. There will also be a brief reading from the book and a screening of historical film clips.

Carmen de Lavallade is an award-winning dancer, choreographer, and actress. She performed with the Lester Horton Dance Theater and Alvin Ailey Dance Company and has appeared on Broadway (House of Flowers) and off (Othello, Death of a Salesman), as well as in film (Carmen Jones, Odds Against Tomorrow). Janet Collins was her first cousin and a great inspiration to de Lavallade, who danced some of her roles at the Metropolitan Opera. De Lavallade was also wife and dance partner to the late Geoffrey Holder.

George Faison is a celebrated dancer, choreographer, and producer who was the first African American to win a Tony Award for Best Choreography—which he received for The Wiz in 1975. He has also worked with popular entertainers such as Ashford & Simpson, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, and Earth, Wind & Fire. In addition, Faison is the artistic director of the Faison Firehouse Theater, a performing arts and cultural center that seeks to preserve Harlem’s historic past.

Raven Wilkinson was the first African-American dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which she joined in 1955, becoming a soloist in her second season. When performing in the American South, she wore white makeup to conceal her race. After her identity was revealed, she faced threats from the KKK. She left the company in 1961 and went on to work with the Dutch National Ballet and New York City Opera.



Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins

Janet Collins (1917–2003) was a renowned dancer, painter, and the first African-American soloist ballerina to appear on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. It took her many years of resolve, facing the blatant racism that existed in the dance community (as it did elsewhere in the United States), to achieve the status of prima ballerina at the Met. In fact, at age 15 she was offered a position with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with the caveat that she would “paint her face white.” Collins declined. But she did not give up.

 Lewin-Night R-72-3rule

Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins, recipient of the Marfield Prize,
the National Award for Arts Writing, and now available in paperback.
The first two chapters are comprised of Collins’s unfinished autobiography.

 larger collage


The black dancing body was welcome on American and European stages of the mid-twentieth century, but usually only in forms of popular entertainment that perpetuated African-American stereotypes: the comic, the streetwise, and the exotic primitive. These stereotypical characters were found in minstrel shows and vaudeville, as well as on Broadway and in Hollywood movies. Pioneers like Edna Guy, Hemsley Winfield, and Katherine Dunham paved the way for African-American dancers in the arena of Modern dance, but the world of ballet remained closed, its movement vocabulary deemed too refined for black performers. In addition to the stereotypes of being too raw, too sensual, and too primal, blacks also had to contend with an irrational judgment of their physiques. White dance directors and choreographers deemed the black dancing physique as incompatible with ballet’s technical and aesthetic demands, assuming that they somehow lacked the grace and precision necessary to succeed in ballet.

Night’s Dancer tells the story of Janet Collins, who helped to pave the way for positive change in the dance world. She remains an inspiration today, due to her artistry, courage, and perseverance. Biographer Yaël Tamar Lewin, who is also a dancer, does not shy away from the darker corners of her life. Lewin discusses Collins’s battle with depression, the sterilization she underwent as a young woman, and the hard-hitting rejection she faced because of her skin color. Lewin does not merely focus on Collins’s long struggle to break the race barrier. Drawing on extensive research as well as interviews with Collins, her family, friends, and colleagues, Lewin chronicles her life as a well-rounded and accomplished artist, a true pioneer in her choreographic work. Collins fused styles, topics, and music in new ways. She also was a talented painter.

Wesleyan University Press is not alone in recognizing the talents and achievements of Janet Collins. She is also the subject of Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story, a new short animated film narrated by Chris Rock and produced by Karyn Parsons for Sweet Blackberry. Carmen de Lavallade, an accomplished dancer, choreographer, and Yale University professor, is working on a feature film about her talented cousin. De Lavallade is collaborating with actress/producer Roberta Haynes and writer Jenny Callicott on the film, Prima: The Janet Collins StoryTheir website explains: “So many events in today’s news remind us that it is increasingly important to remember the struggles of the civil rights movement.” And asks: “[W]hy is it that Janet Collins’ amazing accomplishment of becoming the first black prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera a story that remains untold?”

Collins’s story is still very relevant. In her memoir, Misty Copeland (now principal dancer at American Ballet Theater) noted that “[t]here were many people who seemed not to want to see black ballerinas, who thought that our very presence made ballet less authentic, less romantic, less true. The bitter truth is I felt that I wasn’t being fully accepted because I was black, that leaders of the company just didn’t see me starring in more classical roles, despite my elegant line and flow.” Collins was among a small, dedicated group of black dancers who helped pave a difficult road for talents such as Copeland.

Janet Collins has been widely recognized as one of the finest dancers in America. Her artistic and personal influences continue to shape the dance world today, not only due to her perseverance, but also due to her great talent and creativity as a dancer and artist.

Photo credits, all found in Night’s Dancer: 1 & 2: Collins in Spirituals. Photo @ Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 3: Painting of a young girl by Collins. Courtesy of the estate of Janet Collins. 4: Painting of a woman with magnolias by Collins. Courtesy of the estate of Janet Collins. 5: Collins with Hanya Holm, Don Redlick, and Elizabeth Harris, 1961. Photo by Bob McIntyre. Courtesy of Don Redlich. 6: Collins surrounded by her art. Betty Udesen/The Seattle Times. Featured image: Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Van Vechten Trust and the Carl Van Vechten Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

New film on dancer Martha Hill

Martha Hill (1900–1995), the first Director of Dance at the Juilliard School, was one of the most influential dance figures of the twentieth century. Her leadership was instrumental in cementing dance’s position as an art form and as an area for serious scholarship. She carved out a place for contemporary dance in America, paving the way for artists like José Limón and Merce Cunningham. Recently, Hill has come back into the public eye with Greg Vander Veer’s movie Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter, which premiered at the 2014 Dance on Camera Festival in New York. In her review of Miss Hill for Film Journal International, Lisa Jo Sagolla writes that “Hill’s crucial role in modern dance history is comprehensively delineated in Janet Mansfield Soares’ exemplary 2009 biography, Martha Hill & the Making of American Dance. Yet director Greg Vander Veer’s smartly constructed documentary bears viewing, even by those who’ve thoroughly digested Soares’ book.”

Author Janet Mansfield Soares was a student, colleague, and teacher of dance composition with Martha Hill at the Juilliard School and is a professor emerita of dance at Barnard College, Columbia University.

Janet Mansfield Soares and her book, Martha Hill & the Making of American Dance

Janet Mansfield Soares and her book, Martha Hill & the Making of American Dance.

Martha Hill, along with contemporaries like Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, and Doris Humphrey, broke away from the old-world paradigms of ballet and European dance to create the distinctly American art form of modern dance. Soares traces the social and political forces that shaped Hill’s life, following her as she challenged the expectations placed on women in terms of their physical capabilities. Hill questioned the tenets of “white-gloved” physical education for women, and battled members of the “old boys’ club” in her mission to gain acceptance and status for dance as an independent performing art. Her work was essential in proving female dancers, teachers, and choreographers to be true artists in their own right. In her introduction to Martha Hill & the Making of American Dance, Soares wrote: “Hill worked to position dance as a valued artistic practice, one that belonged in the sociocultural life of campuses and arts centers in the United States and around the world—and one that would gradually shape a cultural entity of its own… [Hill], with her colleagues, managed to transform a many-faceted group of eccentrics into a community of talents with a single goal: to assure the survival of contemporary dance into a new millennium.”

President Gerald Ford greeting Martha Hill in 1976. Courtesy of the Martha Hill Archives.

President Gerald Ford greeting Martha Hill in 1976. Courtesy of the Martha Hill Archives.

#tbt: A note from Langston Hughes

This small flyer was recently unearthed from files relating to our 1962 publication The Underground Railroad in Connecticut, by Horatio T. Strother.


Wesleyan’s esteemed editor, José Rollin de la Torre Bueno, was seeking Hughes as a pre-publication reader for the book. Hughes regretted that he could not act as a reader, being busy with his own projects and on account of having:

..been away a great deal from New York…twice to California, twice to Africa, and having just now come back a few weeks ago from abroad…. I have just sent to the press my book on the NAACP; now I have one other long overdue book deadline to meet, not counting the numerous magazine articles and other things that I have promised. While I was away, mail piled up to the ceiling and I have now in front of me at least a half dozen new books in proofs and others that publishers have sent me that I have had no more than a chance to glance at.

The above flyer, advertising Hughes’s gospel song-play, Black Nativity, accompanied his letter. On the reverse there is a hand-written note explaining that the play would be performed in Spoleto, Italy. The European debut of the play was at the Spoleto Festival. Then the play moved to London, where it was taped for a television special by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company.

#tbt: Mel Brooks’ dancing alien, from “Spaceballs”

This week’s throwback Thursday post is dedicated to director Mel Brooks! He is one of many directors interviewed in The Director Within: Storytellers of Stage and Screen by Rose Eichenbaum. The photograph of Brooks, below, is one of many images from the book.


To honor Brooks and his ongoing ability to make us laugh long and hard, we picked a clip from his movie Spaceballs (1987).

Mel Brooks is a master of comedy. From film to theatrical productions, his work has earned him the highest honors bestowed on an entertainer: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award—to name a few. As Brooks fans know, the filmmaker loves to spoof historic events, popular culture, books, and other films. Such parodies include Young Frankenstein, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, High Anxiety, and Spaceballs. 

When asked why he’s chosen to create so many parodies, Brooks responded:

“All I’m doing is reliving the movies I loved as a little boy. With Young Frankenstein I was reviving the gorgeous films by James Whale, Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). High Anxiety is a tribute to Hitchcock. Spaceballs I made for my son, Max Brooks, who loved Star Trek and Star Wars. I dolled them up, of course, with a lot of different themes and feelings.”

Directors featured in the book The Director Within include:

• Michael Apted
• Robert Benton
• Peter Bogdanovich
• James L. Brooks
• Mel Brooks
• James Burrows
• John Carpenter
• Joseph Cedar
• Richard Donner
• Jonathan Frakes
• Lesli Linka Glatter
• Taylor Hackford
• Walter Hill
• Arthur Hiller
• Reginald Hudlin
• Doug Hughes
• Lawrence Kasdan
• John Landis
• Barry Levinson
• Rod Lurie
• Emily Mann
• Kathleen Marshall
• Rob Marshall
• Michael Mayer
• Paul Mazursky
• Mira Nair
• Hal Prince
• Brett Ratner
• Gary Ross
• Mark Rydell
• Jay Sandrich
• Susan Stroman
• Julie Taymor
• Robert Towne
• Tim Van Patten

Rose Eichenbaum will be signing copies of her books, The Director Within and The Dancer Within at Chavelier’s Books in Los Angeles this Saturday. She will be joined by performer-authors Zippora Karz and Victoria Tennant. Read more about the event and participants here.

#UPWeek: AAUP’s Third Annual Blog Tour


It is University Press Week…a time to celebrate all the wonderful work published by scholarly presses! In the spirit of partnership that pervades the university press community, thirty-two presses will unite for the AAUP’s third annual blog tour. This tour will highlight the value of collaboration among the scholarly community. Individual presses will blog on a different theme each day. Today’s theme is “Collaboration.” The following presses are participating. Click on the available links to learn about some of the collaborative efforts initiated by our colleagues at other presses and institutions.

University of California Press

University of Chicago Press

University Press of Colorado

Duke University Press

University of Georgia Press

Project MUSE/Johns Hopkins University Press

McGill-Queen’s University Press

Texas A&M University Press

University of Virginia Press

Yale University Press

Tomorrow’s theme is “Your University Press in Pictures.” Wesleyan University Press is participating on Thursday, November 13th, as part of “Throwback Thursday.” Read more about AAUP, University Presses, and University Press Week here.

“Engaging Bodies” wins Selma Jeanne Cohen Prize in Dance Aesthetics

We are pleased to announce that Ann Cooper Albright’s book Engaging Bodies: The Politics and Poetics of Corporeality, has been selected as the winner of the Selma Jeanne Cohen Prize in Dance Aesthetics.

albright blog

The prize honors Selma Jeanne Cohen‘s work in dance theory, dance history, and dance aesthetics, and is funded by a bequest from her estate. The winner will be publicly announced during the national meeting of the ASA on October 29 to November 1, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.

The American Society for Aesthetics was founded in 1942 to promote study, research, discussion, and publication in aesthetics. “Aesthetics,” in this connection, is understood to include all studies of the arts and related types of experience from a philosophic, scientific, or other theoretical standpoint, including those of psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultural history, art criticism, and education. “The arts” include the visual arts, literature, music, and theater arts.

The ASA publishes the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and The ASA Newsletter.

Rose Eichenbaum—photographer, author and educator

Rose Eichenbaum is one of today’s most respected photojournalists in the field of dance. Her books, Masters of Movement, The Dancer Within, The Actor Within, and now, The Director Within, have paired photographic portraits of artists with thoughtful conversations about their creative processes. A teacher for more than 25 years, Eichenbaum is also a sought-out inspirational and motivational speaker, with a story that will get people thinking about the complex relationship of art making and human expression. Check out Rose’s latest book, The Director Within: Storytellers of Stage and Screen. It hits stores today, and will make a great holiday gift for the film or theater lover on your list.


Eichenbaum_Rose 2014


The child of Holocaust survivors, Eichenbaum has always felt that being born was “a small miracle.” And since then, she has always felt the drive to leave a mark on the world. Though she has a master’s degree in dance from UCLA, her own professional dance career was concluded when she had three children. “However,” she says, “picking up a camera to photograph my children proved a revelation. I discovered that I loved image making and that through the medium of photography I could still dance.”

In addition to her work as a teacher, Eichenbaum has built a successful career as a dance photographer. She’s behind more than two dozen magazine covers and countless articles in nationally acclaimed publications like Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, Dance Spirit, and others. She is also the official photographer for the State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara. This work, in turn, drew her to photojournalism—an interest which has birthed her four acclaimed books on the luminaries of choreography, dance, acting, and directing.


eichenbaum blog


Her work addresses the power of the human spirit, expressed through these various art forms. All the people she’s interviewed, she says, are “driven individuals who want to be seen, heard, and express themselves—” much like herself. With her probing questions and disarming manner, Eichenbaum is a skilled interviewer, and her powerful photographs reveal the essence of each artist she speaks to. Eichenbaum captures the essential character of her subjects while shining a light on the art that defines them, creating invaluable touchstones for anyone interested in performance art as expression.


Telling Janet Collins’ story

Janet Collins, renowned dancer, painter, and the first African-American soloist ballerina to appear at the Metropolitan Opera, remains largely under-recognized. Actress and mother Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, hopes to remedy this by sharing Collins’ story with those to whom it might be most important—children.


larger collage


Karyn created a Kickstarter campaign, which closes on July 18th, to fund the project. Donors will receive all manner of exciting prizes. There are signed posters, photographs, and books; chances to have a voicemail message recorded by Chris Rock or Jada Pinkett Smith; even opportunities to meet Rock or members of the cast of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

You can also select Welseyan’s book on Janet Collins, Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins by Yaël Tamar Lewin. As Collins wrote in her unfinished memoir, included in Night’s Dancer, her life was full of  “great thrills—and great chills.” Janet was born in 1917 to a poor but educated family in New Orleans. The family moved to Los Angeles soon after her birth, as her mother wanted to live in a place where her children “could go anywhere they wanted to, particularly the library.”

Janet’s talents became apparent at a young age, but as a black woman in the entirely white world of dance, she faced prejudice. At age fifteen she was offered a spot in the prestigious company Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but only if she agreed to perform in whiteface. She refused. Later, she was unable to tour in the Jim Crow South.

Collins went on to star in Aida and Carmen, and eventually graced the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, its first black prima ballerina. Since then, she has been widely recognized as one of the finest dancers in America. Her artistic and personal influences continue to shape the dance world today.

It’s an important story, one that is sure to inspire todays young people. Visit the Kickstarter page to contribute. The campaign has garnered attention from BETThe Guardian, and NPR.

Photo credits, all found in Night’s Dancer: 1 & 2: Collins in Spirituals. Photo @ Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 3: Painting of a young girl by Collins. Courtesy of the estate of Janet Collins. 4: Painting of a woman with magnolias by Collins. Courtesy of the estate of Janet Collins. 5: Collins with Hanya Holm, Don Redlick, and Elizabeth Harris, 1961. Photo by Bob McIntyre. Courtesy of Don Redlich. 6: Collins surrounded by her art. Betty Udesen/The Seattle Times.